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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Historical Fiction Appeals to Midwest Book Reviewer

Title: Olivia, Mourning (Book 1 of the Olivia series)
Author: Yael Politis
Author's website:  yaelpolitis.wordpress.com
Genre: Historical Fiction (USA, 1840s)
ISBN:   1493652451
Available on Amazon

Reviewed by Diane Donovan, Senior eBook Reviewer for Midwest Book Review

Olivia, Mourning, Book 1 of the ‘Olivia’ series, is historical fiction at its best. It is the story of Olivia Killion, a feisty, would-be-independent woman – a seventeen-year-old female living in 1841 who’s determined to fulfill the requirement of her father’s will and cultivate 80 acres in Michigan in order to gain title to the land.

She spent two years caring for her demanding father during his long illness and now feels entitled to a home she can call her own. Many obstacles stand in the way of her plans but Mourning, her childhood friend, has experience working the land and agrees to become a partner in this endeavor. Olivia not only trusts him but fears no romantic entanglement developing between them and complicating matters.

There’s only one problem: he’s black and reluctant to risk the wrath of white men by working with a young white girl. He’s also the orphaned son of slaves who escaped to the north. Mourning was born free in Pennsylvania, but knows that the private agents who patrol the free states in search of fugitive slaves to return to the south are not particular about the legal status of the young black men they kidnap.

Olivia believes she can make her dream come true without putting Mourning in danger, and the two set off to an isolated log cabin to work the land together. Olivia represses the feelings she begins to develop for Mourning and focuses instead on her attraction to a young neighbor. But when all turns to disaster, Olivia is forced to acknowledge – and re-assess – not only her feelings for Mourning, but the very nature of her drive for independence.

Olivia, Mourning deftly captures the atmosphere of her times, offering readers a smooth introduction to Olivia’s character and its origins, her purpose, and her growth: “Olivia had heard the good women in the pews behind her all through her father’s funeral service, a flock of pecking hens in winter poke bonnets. They lowered their voices, but not enough; she heard their opinions of what that Killion girl ought to do. Or not do. Just what was wrong with her and how it ought to be fixed.”

The way she attempts to conduct her relationship with Mourning reveals the depth of her maturity and awareness of the challenges they face: “I’m not a fighter, Mourning. I’ve never wanted to change the world. All I want is to make my own little piece of it as nice as I can. We’ll both have a lot more trouble doing that if all the white folks we meet get it into their heads that we’re way too friendly for their liking. We’re going to need good relations with our neighbors, and if telling them you’re my hired man – and me bossing you like you are – will keep them from getting all rankled, well so what?”

Her assessments of reality are strikingly down to earth for a seventeen-year-old and her slow realization of Mourning’s importance to her life (beyond their business relationship) is candid and revealing, too: “It’s Mourning, she thought. Mourning is the one I care for. Has been for a long time. Not just as a friend. He’s the one it could be wonderful to share a life with. But with Mourning there is nothing to hope for, no “if only he wanted me.” Never. I might as well wish both of us dead as wish for him to express desire for me. Nothing will ever change that. And no other man will ever feel like part of me, the way Mourning does.” 

What to do with this new-found self-awareness? What choices will Olivia make? Will they support her beliefs or compromise everything she purports to value? And what roles will isolation and stubbornness play in both their lives?

Olivia, Mourning is about the changing complexities of human relationships and politics as much as it is about one determined young girl’s desire to make her own place in the world, outside of boundaries and conventions. It’s also a story of trauma and how even the closest-held relationships and secrets change. 

Expect no easy conclusions to Book 1: it’s all about transition points and leaves the door open for further journeys with Olivia. Readers interested in historical fiction with a healthy dose of romance will find Olivia, Mourning a compelling, gripping saga that deliciously wraps what could be predictable elements in a cloak of many choices. It’s all about options and consequences – and is a heartfelt story especially recommended for readers who enjoy headstrong protagonists tasked with making their own way in the world.

– D. Donovan, Senior eBook Reviewer, MBR


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